War in Afghanistan: A Puzzle and Four Hypotheses

The war in Afghanistan became an unknown for political and military analysts. It is now clear that the Taliban did not announce the attacks of September 11, in the USA, and they are increasingly distant from Al-Qaeda and the terrorist networks whose leadership and support are particularly in Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan.

José Luis Fiori

Carta Maior

"Whenever western leaders ask themselves the question, "Why are we In Afghanistan," they come up with essentially the same reply, "To prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state and haven for terrorists." Yet there is very little evidence that Afghanistan is becoming stable. On the contrary, the fighting is intensifying, casualities are mounting and the Taliban are becoming more confident. "

Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, June 26, 2010

The numerical and technological superiority of U.S. forces, and NATO, with respect to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, is abysmal. However, the strategic situation of the U.S. and its allies, after nine years of war is getting worse every day. In just one month, President Obama was obliged to dismiss for insubordination the famous General Stanley McChystal, who he had appointed, and that was supposed to be the symbol of a "new" war strategy of his government. And now he faces one of the most serious cases of leakage of information in American military history, with the bloodthirsty details of the U.S. troops, and accusations that Pakistan - its main ally - prepares and supports the Taliban fighters.

After sending 30,000 more U.S. troops in 2010, the Allied military situation has not improved. Taliban attacks are becoming more numerous and daring, and the number of deaths is increasing. Moreover, the support of American and world public opinion is increasingly smaller, and some key U.S. allies like the Netherlands and Canada have already announced the withdrawal of their troops. Britain itself is signaling the same direction. Some time ago, American General Dan McNeil, former allied commander, told the German magazine Der Spiegel, it would require 400,000 troops to win the war, and perhaps for this reason, almost nobody believes in the possibility of a definitive victory.

Moreover, the government of President Hamid Karzai is increasingly weak and corrupted by drug money and American aid. Afghan society is divided between its "war lords," and the current Afghan state can only be sustained with the presence of foreign troops. And finally, the fight in Afghanistan against terrorist networks and against al-Qaeda of bin Laden also goes wrong, and is being fought in the wrong place.

Today it is now clear that the Taliban did not announce the attacks of September 11, in the USA, and they are increasingly distant from Al-Qaeda and the terrorist networks whose leadership and support are particularly in Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan. And almost all strategists believe it would be more effective to withdraw troops and do the tracking and control at a distance from terrorist networks that still exist in Taliban territory.

To summarize: the possibility of military victory is infinitesimal, the Taliban do not advocate terrorist attacks against the U.S. and have no weapons of mass destruction, and there are no strategic economic interests in Afghanistan. Therefore, the Afghan war became an unknown for analysts and politicians.

From our point of view, in the meantime, the explanation of the war and any prospect of its future requires a theory and a long-term geopolitical analysis on the dynamics of one of the the great powers who lead or rule the world system, from its origins in Europe, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In synthesis:

i) In the "European" global system, there never was nor will there ever be "perpetual peace" because it is a system that requires preparation for war and the wars themselves to organize and expand;

ii) In this system, the "great powers" have always been involved in some kind of permanent war. And in the case of England and the U.S., they started - on average - a new war every three years since the beginning of their global expansion;

iii) Moreover, this same system has always had an "outbreak of war," a sort of "black hole," which moves in space and time and carries a destructive force and gravity over the entire system, keeping it together and hierarchical. After the Second World War, the gravitational center of Europe itself moved out and in a clockwise direction: to northeast and southeast Asia, with the wars in Korea and Vietnam, between 1951 and 1975, and then to Asia Central, with the wars between Iran and Iraq, and against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the 80s, with the Gulf War in early 1990, and with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this first decade XXI century.

iv) From this point of view, one can predict that the war in Afghanistan must continue, even without the prospect of victory, and that the U.S. will only withdraw from Afghanistan when the "war epicenter" of the world system can be moved, probably in the same direction clockwise.

José Luis Fiori, a political scientist, is a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Translated from the Portuguese version by:



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Author`s name Lisa Karpova